Article published in The Odessa Review, issue of December 16 / January 17.
This article is part of the ongoing project « Looking for Lenin », in partnership with Niels Ackermann. Be sure to like and follow the Facebook Page of the project: After Lenin
Ukraine’s official efforts at Decommunization were passed into law by the Verhovna Rada in the spring of 2015. Secret security service archives were opened up to the light of day, streets named after Soviet era heroes were renamed after various Ukrainian personalities, some of them controversial. Symbols and relics of the Soviet regime were banned. In fact, all sorts of symbols of the communist era including flags and artefacts were banned. Most symbolic of all was the banning of the statues of Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The process had first began on the night of December 8, 2013 during the midst of the Maidan revolution, when the anti-government protestors successfully toppled a gigantic statue of Lenin standing in the middle of Kyiv. That statue’s fall was a symbolic start that was replicated in hundreds of cities and villages all across the country, in a process that has taken different forms in different places. The continued process of decommissioning of the statues and the often violent destruction that has accompanied it took place over the course of the last year and a half has been called the “Leninopad” or simply the “Lenin-fall”. Some of the Lenin statues are removed quietly by government authorities, and in some places thuggish groups of vigilante and nationalist oriented young men take matters into their own hands, just as often engaging in violent skirmishes with pro-Russian or Soviet nostalgic locals. The fate of the Lenin statues is a remarkable aspect of contemporary Ukraine. The Swiss photographer Niels Ackermann and the French journalist Sébastien Gobert have been traveling around Ukraine chronicling the “Leninopad” for a forthcoming book.
There is not a single monument to Lenin left standing in Ukraine. According to multiple Ukrainian news agencies, on October 24th, the last standing statue of the Bolshevik leader was removed from the town center of Novohorod-Siverskiy. The felling of the last standing monument of its kind in the country marks an obvious epochal shift for contemporary Ukraine. Yet, the process of Decommunization is far from complete: there remain smaller sculptures and busts here and there. And one should also not forget the monuments still standing in the occupied territories in Crimea and Donbass where a renewed Soviet nostalgia has taken hold.
Yet, the fact remains: Lenin is no longer a part of Ukraine’s landscape. As the scholar and art collector Myroslava Hartmond puts it in her essay in “Minima Ucrainica: “The Mother Goddess archetype that is the Ukrainian landscape is liberated of the host of phallic columns that have sought to dominate her forevermore”.